Venezuelan TV hosts Rodner Figueroa, Alessandra Villegas, Daniel Sarcos and Carolina Sandoval exclusively share their thoughts with CHICA on the humanitarian crisis affecting their country.
Roughly 3 million people have fled Venezuela since 2014. Venezuelans who live abroad and those with the means to leave can be called lucky. And though their situations may not be dire, the Venezuelan diaspora despairs for their country as if for a lost loved one.
They have had to watch those left behind face a political, economic and social crisis — characterized by hyper-inflation, lack of food and basic services, higher crime rates and a severe crackdown on dissent and protesters — based on years of deteriorating conditions and affronts to democracy. Throughout 2017, president Nicholas Maduro’s armed forces killed nearly 170 people during protests and have reportedly committed other horrifying acts of suppression.
The controversial re-election of Maduro in May 2018, which many saw as rigged and fraudulent, helped galvanize the movement to de-legitimize him. In January 2019, the time of Maduro’s inaugurated, an opposition leader in the National Assembly, Juan Guaido, claimed the right to assume the role of interim president. The United States and many other democratic countries decided to recognize Guaido. Maduro’s forces have blocked and even torched trucks full of food and medicine sent from the U.S.
As daily essentials disappear and electricity outages get worse, Venezuelans from every walk of life, rich, middle class and poor alike, are caught in the chaos. To help with relief of the ongoing humanitarian crisis, business tycoon Richard Branson sponsored a Venezuelan Aid Live concert in Cúcuta, Colombia, on the border of Venezuela, near a flashpoint bridge where aid was blocked and still sits.
Rodner Figueroa covered the February 22 Venezuelan Aid Live concert for Al Rojo Vivo (Telemundo) from Cúcuta, Colombia, where artists like Alejandro Sanz, Juanes, Maluma, Paulina Rubio, José Luis Rodríguez “El Puma,” Lele Pons, Luis Fonsi, Carlos Vives, Maná and many others came together to raise financial aid for the country and send a message of peace and unity.
“It was an electrifying energy because everyone was connected in the same highly elevated channel of vibration.” he says of the vibe at the concert. “You felt this energy when you saw the connection of souls, of spirits, it was beautiful.” Figueroa notes one particularly emotional moment on stage. The popular Venezuelan duet Chyno Miranda and Nacho Mendoza reconciled after personal conflicts had driven them apart. “They hugged each other and sent a message of union and solidarity, that was the best way to symbolize what we were living that day in Cúcuta.”
“I was afraid for my own safety,” Figueroa admits of going with singer Nacho (and the rest of the crew from Al Rojo Vivo) to the Simon Bolivar bridge, where he saw first hand the fight between the military forces of Maduros and the protestors. “We saw a chaotic situation. It’s like a war. You hear explosions, you see tear gas all over the air, people who were injured by rubber pellets. But even though it was a high-risk situation, people came together and you saw a great solidarity,” he says.
“I have been deeply affected by seeing how my country has crumbled in the past years,” admits TV host Alejandra Villegas (here with her husband, TV host Daniel Sarcos, holding their native flag). “I have been living outside of my country since I was 16 years old. And I live with a profound sadness, just like Daniel, missing my loved ones in Venezuela, with the nostalgia of not being able to return to the land where I grew up.”
Sarcos (shown above a few years ago in Maracaibo with his daughter, Carlota, from his previous relationship with TV host Chiquinquirá Delgado) hopes he can soon see a democratic Venezuela. “It’s been over 12 years that I haven’t had my entire family together at the dinner table to celebrate a special day together,” he says of the diaspora brought by the political and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. “We all live in different countries; we are scattered throughout the world. That always brings you sadness no matter what wonderful things are happening in your life,” Sarcos, who recently welcomed his first son with Villegas in Miami, says. “You always have that thorn in your heart.”
“I remember enjoying walks in Merida with my parents when I was little, spending Christmas and Easter in Charallave, where I practically grew up,” Carolina Sandoval of Suelta la Sopa (Telemundo) says of happier days in her country, where she met her husband, Nick Hernandez, in high school.
“I ask that you keep praying for my country,” says Sandoval (above, years ago in her country). “Please don’t go to bed a single day without thinking of the Venezuelan kids that don’t have the same opportunities as kids in other countries, and use social media to inform and expose everything that is happening in my dear Venezuela.”
Sandoval (with Hernandez) makes sure that her daughter Amalia Victoria, 2 — who was born in the United States and lives in Miami — celebrates her Venezuelan roots (above, Amalia dressed in typical clothes from her parents’ country at a school activity). “Everything hurts,” she adds of the images from her country in chaos she sees on newscasts. “Seeing people eating out of trash bins can’t be forgiven by God,” she adds. “Seeing so many innocent kids die makes me feel impotent. I feel that my people are finally ready to win this battle. I feel that we are on the right track. Something tells me that Juan Guaidó will be the man that will make this transition possible. It won’t be an easy process but no great battle was won in one day.”
TV host Chiquinquirá Delgado, the wife of Univision TV anchor Jorge Ramos, expressed her hope for a free Venezuela on Instagram. Ramos was temporarily detained by Maduro’s government along with other crew members from Univision Noticias when the autocrat did not like the questions the journalist asked during an interview. “Venezuela the aid will come and so will freedom,” she wrote along with a photo of herself at Premios Lo Nuestro, holding her flag next to fans.
Popular blogger, singer and influencer Lele Pons, who was present at the Venezuela Aid Live concert, shared a photo of herself wearing a Venezuelan flag with the message: “United we can achieve more #VenezuelaLibre.”